Wednesday, 7 October 2020

A creationist paper gets into a mainstream scientific journal

 Creationists are touting the publication of a paper [1] in the prestigious Journal of Theoretical Biology, the main points of which are:
  • Statistical methods are appropriate for modelling fine-tuning.
  • Fine-tuning is detected in functional proteins, cellular networks etc.
  • Constants and initial conditions of nature are deliberately tuned.
  • Statistical analysis of fine-tuning model some of the categories of design.
  • Fine-tuning and design deserve attention in the scientific community.
Getting a solitary review paper into a mainstream scientific journal needless to say does not mean evolutionary biology has been overturned. In fact, the paper has already earned itself a rebuttal,while the editors of the Journal of Theoretical Biology have published a disclaimer which apart from declaring that both the journal and its editors do not endorse intelligent design creationism declare that:
Moreover, the keywords “intelligent design” were added by the authors after the review process during the proofing stage and we were unaware of this action by the authors.
That the authors of the paper are connected with a creationist group of course does not mean that the paper can be dismissed out of hand; the argument should stand on its merits. Does it? The authors of the rebuttal clearly do not, and Jason Rosenhouse,  a mathematician with a strong interest in evolutionary biology also is unimpressed:
I have focused on what I take to be the absolutely fatal flaw of this paper. The authors claim to have used probability theory to establish a scientifically rigorous and useful notion of “fine-tuning,” but they have failed because we have nothing like the information we would need to carry out meaningful probability calculations. Done.
But I don’t think I’ve adequately communicated just how bad this paper is. The authors are constantly tossing out bits of mathematical jargon and notation, but then they do nothing with them. There is a frustrating lack of precision, as when they variously describe fine-tuning as an object, an entity, a method, and an attribute of a system, all on the first page of the paper. They constantly cite creationist references, with only the most glancing mention that any of this work has been strongly and cogently criticized. They say we should give fair consideration to a “design model” for the origination of complex structures, but they give not the beginning of a clue as to what such a model entails. (Emphasis mine)
Rosenhouse's rebuttal can be found here.
1. Thorvaldsen, S., Hössjer, O., 2020. Using statistical methods to model the fine-tuning of molecular machines and systems. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 501, 110352
2. Jason Rosenhouse "Biology Journal Gets Conned" Panda's Thumb. October 6 2020